Poll irregularities that must  be acted  upon

Published January 26, 2019, 12:17 AM

by Manila Bulletin

E CARTOON JAN 26, 2019In the nine months since the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), composed of all members of the Supreme Court, began its recount of ballots cast for vice president in 2016, the ballots cast in the three provinces of Iloilo, Negros Oriental, and Camarines Sur have been recounted by the tribunal.

The three provinces with their 1,200  ballot boxes had been named by former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in his protest against Vice President Leni Robredo’s election. She  had  been  declared winner over Marcos by a margin of 263,473 votes in that election. The vice president countered with her own protest case, asking for a recount in 30,000 other precincts in  which  Marcos won.

Last  Tuesday, January 22, the PET  ordered the suspension of proceedings in two  precincts in Negros Oriental. The ballots in a precinct in Tanjay City were wet and the revisors were told to use decrypted ballot images. As for the other precinct in Valencia, there were reportedly no election returns at all in the ballot box.

The next day, the Robredo camp led by Atty. Romeo Macalintal said it had already filed a manifestation with the PET that the Marcos  camp “did not make a substantial recovery in his designated pilot provinces.” There is need for such substantial recovery in the three pilot provinces, for the PET’s technical examination to continue in Lanao del Sur, Basilan, and Maguindanao, it said.

The PET will  have  to rule on this. Then it will have to decide on whether  to proceed with the counter-protest of Robredo who has asked for a recount in another 30,000 precincts. It has taken nine months to recount the ballots in 1,200 precincts. We can only speculate how long  it will take should PET proceed with  the counter-protest.

In  all the years of this republic, there have been four other election protests filed with the PET – by Miriam Defensor Santiago against Fidel V. Ramos in 1992, by  Fernando Poe Jr. against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004, by Loren Legarda against Noli de Castro in 2004, and by Manuel Roxas against Jejomar Binay in 2010.

None  of them prospered for various reasons, including failure to pay the required amount for a protest. But the biggest reason has been insufficient time for a proper recount of votes cast nationwide. At the rate the Marcos-Robredo case is  proceeding, the recount may not be completed before the disputed term is completed in three years.

The  case before PET, however, has exposed several irregularities that the Commission on Elections can act upon, even while the protest case pends  before PET.  The  discovery of an empty ballot box in Negros Oriental, for sample. And the finding that ballots were wet  in another precinct and no longer decipherable because of improper storage.

We continue  to await a just decision on the Marcos-Robredo case but in the meantime, the Comelec could  act on the irregularities that have already been found in the various processes involved in elections, including storage free from all possible intervention, so as  to maintain the integrity of the election process, from preparation, to its actual holding, to the counting, and to possible recounting in the event of a protest.